The White House’s biggest trade hawk has been doing some freelancing lately on an economic issue that’s become just as controversial as tariffs: U.S. monetary policy.
Peter Navarro, in two interviews last week, criticized the Federal Reserve for raising interest rates gradually to prevent a solid U.S. economy with low unemployment from overheating. Navarro, who has a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University, is one of President Donald Trump’s toughest voices calling to fix trade imbalances with China.
White House economic advisers typically decline to comment publicly about Fed policy to show respect for central-bank independence, and they almost never offer an open critique. Navarro, piling on with Trump, is showing no such restraint.
“We have zero inflation for all practical purposes, so on Wednesday the only argument I am hearing for the Fed to raise rates is that somehow they have to exert their independence from the White House,” he told CNBC on Monday, the day before the Fed’s two-day meeting kicked off.
“This is a bad argument. I think what the Fed should do is simply do what it says it’s going to do, which is look at the data,” he said.
Navarro, 69, is director of the White House’s Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, a position he’s used to blast China for what he says is unfair competition in the global trading system.
Concerns about an escalating U.S. trade war with China that Navarro has encouraged have hurt the U.S. stock market in recent weeks, and Trump has also entwined his trade war with Fed policy. In a statement on Saturday attributed to the president that was tweeted by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Trump said current Fed policy was terrible “especially in light of my major trade negotiations which are ongoing.”
Lately, Navarro’s been pointing the finger at the nation’s monetary authority as the source of the severe stock market selloff. After the Fed raised rates on Wednesday for the fourth time this year and signaled two more moves in 2019, Navarro told Japan’s Nikkei newspaper that another pair of hikes next year would be “too many.”